Today we begin chapter 11 and we come to a very familiar story, it's the account of our Lord's raising Lazarus from the dead. This is the last and most monumental public miracle that Yeshua did. The purpose of this miracle is given us in verse 4, "It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it."
This is the seventh sign that Lazarus records in this Gospel. The other six were: turning water to wine, healing the nobleman's son, restoring the impotent man, multiplying loaves and fish, walking on the lake, and giving sight to the blind man, and now number seven, giving life to a dead man. Because this miracle is not mentioned in the Synoptic Gospels, liberal critics have argued that it is not genuine. The word "liberal" says it all.
Lazarus has often put together a sign, or miracle, and a theological discourse explaining the meaning of that sign. Here the discourse and the unfolding narrative of the sign are intertwined through John 11:1-44. The key theological phrase of the passage is in verse 25 when Yeshua states, "I am the resurrection and the life." The rest of the passage is commentary, proof, and illustration of Yeshua being the "Life."In the first ten chapters of this Gospel Lazarus has made repeated connections between Yeshua and life, I counted 19 of them, starting with 1:4: "In him was life" and ending with 10:28: "I give them eternal life."
In chapter 10 Yeshua declared to the religious authorities and the people that He had come in fulfillment of the "Good Shepherd prophecies" of the prophets. He has come as Yahweh Himself to shepherd His people. He has come to lead the "sheep" that know His voice out of the "enclosure,"the Old Covenant established at Sinai, and into the New Covenant established in His blood, which is life.
The emphasis on Life is strong in chapter 10. John 10:10 states:
The thief comes only to steal and kill and destroy. I came that they may have life and have it abundantly. John 10:10 ESV
And verses 27-28 declare:
My sheep hear my voice, and I know them, and they follow me. I give them eternal life, and they will never perish, and no one will snatch them out of my hand. John 10:27-28 ESV
And then in chapter 11 Lazarus rises from the dead when he hears Yeshua's voice. If you remember back in chapter 5 twice (John 5:25 and 27-28) Yeshua states that those who are dead (or in the tombs) who hear His voice shall come forth from the tomb. The Lazarus narrative fleshes out a number of statements that Yeshua has made. He is the Life and in this chapter we see that in the resurrection of Lazarus.
We can break down this 11th chapter like this: verses 1-16 deal with the setting and background. Verses 17-33 focus on Yeshua's dialogs with Martha and Mary. Verses 34-44 describe the trip to the tomb and the raising of Lazarus. We'll look at the first section this morning.
Now a certain man was ill, Lazarus of Bethany, the village of Mary and her sister Martha. John 11:1 ESV
"A certain man…Lazarus"—here, for the first time we are introduced to Lazarus. Most view him simple as the man who Yeshua raised from the dead, but we know him as the author of this Gospel. We'll talk about this more in a minute.
So here we are introduced to Lazarus as the brother of Mary and Martha for the first time in the New Testament. Neither he nor his sisters have been mentioned previously in the fourth Gospel. Mary and Martha appeared in Luke 10:38-42, but no mention of Lazarus is made in those verses.
The name Lazarus is known from archaeology and Josephus as a common name in first century Palestine. Lazarus' name is literally La'zar, the shortened Greek form of Eleazar which means "God helps" [Anchor Bible: The Gospel According to John, page 422].
"Mary"—was a very popular name because it was a variation on the name Miriam. Miriam was the sister of Moses. Mary was the most common woman's name in Judea in this period. That's why in verse 2 Lazarus clarifies which Mary she is.
"Martha"—invites Yeshua to stay at her house. She cooks dinner for Him and His disciples sometime during the first two years of His ministry (Luke 10:38-42). Lazarus is not mentioned in this account.
Interestingly the names of all 3 members of this family: Mary (Miriam), Martha (Marta), and Lazarus were found in 1973 in ossuary inscriptions near the town of Bethany on the Mount of Olives, a village which is now known by the Arabic name, El 'Azariyeh, a name derived from the name of Yeshua's dear friend "Lazarus" or Eleazar (The Historical Reliability of John's Gospel, Craig Blomberg, Apollos 2001, p. 165).
These were very common names during that era, but it is possible that these bone boxes, found in the same village as Yeshua's friends, belong to this family who loved Yeshua and believed Him to be the promised Messiah.
We see in this verse that Mary, Martha, and Lazarus all lived in the village of Bethany. This Bethany, which was on the eastern slope of the Mount of Olives less than two miles from Jerusalem along the road toward Jericho, has not been mentioned in the Fourth Gospel before, and must be distinguished from the Bethany of 1:28 and that alluded to in 10:40-42. That is why Lazarus characterizes it as the village of Mary and her sister Martha.
Scholars debate the Hebrew meaning of the name "Bethany." Some scholars maintain the name means: "place" or "house of grace" (bet = place or house while heni is from the root hen, meaning "grace.") Other scholars believe the name comes from the Hebrew word anya, meaning: "affliction," and therefore would be "place or house of affliction" (Anchor Bible: Gospel According to John, page 422).
It was Mary who anointed the Lord with ointment and wiped his feet with her hair, whose brother Lazarus was ill. John 11:2 ESV
Oh, that Mary. Do you remember this story from earlier in this Gospel? No you don't because this story isn't given until chapter 12. But Lazarus seems to assume that the reader will know about it. Many see this "proleptic" reference as indication that Lazarus expected his readers to be familiar with the story already:
So the sisters sent to him, saying, "Lord, he whom you love is ill." John 11:3 ESV
Verses 1 and 2 say that Lazarus was ill, and here Mary and Martha send word to Yeshua that, "He whom you love is ill." He's not even named. They expect that our Lord will know the one who is meant when they say, "He whom you love is ill." That would seem to indicate that our Lord was very close to the family.
So this is the third time we are told Lazarus was ill. The word "love" here is not agapao, which is used of divine love. This is the word phileo, the love of a friend, personal affection, human love.
The sisters' "Lord" is the Greek kurios, which is the common Greek for 'sir,' The sister's message to Yeshua is, "He whom you love is sick." That's it. They didn't ask Him to come to them, or to heal him. NIV Cultural Backgrounds Study Bible says, "It was the custom for people to visit the sick when informed of their sickness; the sisters have special reason for Yeshua to come, however, because He is a healer." So maybe they felt that all they need to let Him know was that Lazarus was sick and would come and heal him.
Here's what I want to know, how did they know where Yeshua was? Were they checking His facebook updates? Did Yeshua post on His wall, Checked into Perea. No, He obviously didn't so I have no idea how they know were to send messengers to give Him this message.
Something important that I want us to see from this verse is that sickness in the life of a believer is by no means incompatible with the Lord's love for us. Despite those who teach that it is God's will for every believer to be healthy and wealthy. These false teachers flaunt their wealth, which they have gained from the gullible who contribute to their bank accounts. When health and wealth don't happen, they teach that it's because of your lack of faith. It's hard to imagine a more heartless and cruel doctrine!
On the basis of this verse some scholars, and I, believe that Lazarus was the author of this Gospel. How do they come up with that? Let me show you.
Tradition says that John wrote the Fourth Gospel, although there is some difference of opinion as to which John, and most people believe that without question. After all, the title of the Fourth Gospel in my Bible is: "The Gospel According to John." So when I read in chapter 21 that the writer of this Gospel was "the disciple whom Yeshua loved," I automatically assumed that the disciple whom Yeshua loved was the Apostle John.
Let's forget tradition for a moment and look at the Scripture, and see if we can determine who wrote the Fourth Gospel. This is really not difficult, because we are told who wrote this Gospel in the book itself:
Peter turned and saw the disciple whom Yeshua loved following them, the one who also had leaned back against him during the supper and had said, "Lord, who is it that is going to betray you?" John 21:20 ESV
Here the writer mentions "the disciple whom Yeshua loved," and then states that this is the disciple that wrote this letter:
This is the disciple who is bearing witness about these things, and who has written these things, and we know that his testimony is true. John 21:24 ESV
The antecedent of "this" is "the disciple whom Yeshua loved" in verse 20. So we know who wrote this Gospel; it was "the disciple whom Yeshua loved." Now all we have to do is to figure out who that was. Does the Bible say any where that John was the "disciple whom Yeshua loved"? NO, it does not! Does the Bible explicitly name anyone who was "loved" by Yeshua? Yes. There is only one man named in the Bible that is said to be loved by Yeshua and that is Lazarus.
As we saw in verse 3 Lazarus' sisters refer to him as a man whom Yeshua loved. That tells us something very important about Lazarus. But that is his sisters' opinion. Even more revealing is what the Spirit tells us through the inspired text:
Now Yeshua loved Martha, and her sister, and Lazarus. John 11:5 ESV
Please notice carefully what this says, "Yeshua loved…Lazarus." So Lazarus' sisters said Yeshua loved him, the text says Yeshua loved Lazarus, and even the Jews said that Yeshua loved Lazarus:
So the Jews said, "See how He loved him!" John 11:36 ESV
It seems to me that the Spirit of God is going to great lengths in John 11 to make it known that Yeshua loved Lazarus. Lazarus is the only man named in the Bible that is specifically identified as being "loved" by Yeshua. Before Pentecost, only fifteen verses mention Yeshua's love. Three of these references, Yeshua's love for Lazarus, and five others refer to "the disciple whom Yeshua loved." The Bible has only seven more verses prior to Pentecost that overtly mention Yeshua's love: Mark 10:21, Jn. 13:1(2x), 13:34, 14:21, 15:9 & 15:12. Not one of these verses names anyone, and only Mark 10:21 refers to a single individual.
Because of this love, it should be obvious that Yeshua and Lazarus have known each other for a while and must have spent some time together, but the first we hear of Lazarus is in John 11. That is the first time we hear of im by name anyway. I think we see Lazarus very early in this Gospel. I believe that he was a disciple of John the Baptist. In verses 35-37 we have two of John's disciples leaving him to follow Yeshua. Who are these two?
One of the two who heard John speak, and followed Him, was Andrew, Simon Peter's brother. John 1:40 NASB
Here we see that one of the disciples was Andrew. The other one is never named. This would be consistent with the author's practice of not naming himself! It seems safe to assume that when the writer makes any reference to another, unnamed disciple, he has in mind this one particular disciple whom Yeshua loved. It is hard to believe that the writer has a number of different disciples that he is committed to keeping anonymous.
Now I want you to notice something that I think is very significant. We first meet Lazarus in John 11 and then John 12 is the last time we hear of Lazarus. After chapter 12 this celebrity disappears from Scripture. This good friend of Yeshua, this man whom Yeshua loved and raised from the dead, suddenly disappears. Notice where we see him last:
Six days before the Passover, Yeshua therefore came to Bethany, where Lazarus was, whom Yeshua had raised from the dead. So they gave a dinner for him there. Martha served, and Lazarus was one of those reclining with him at table. John 12:1-2 ESV
The last time we see Lazarus named, he is reclining at a table with Yeshua. Then he disappears from the pages of Scripture. What is really interesting is right after Lazarus' name disappears, someone else appears that we have never heard of before:
One of his disciples, whom Yeshua loved, was reclining at table at Yeshua's side, John 13:23 ESV
The last time we see Lazarus, he is reclining at a table with Yeshua, and the first time we see the "disciple whom Yeshua loved," He is reclining at a table with Yeshua. The only man named in the Bible as being "loved" by Yeshua abruptly vanishes from this Gospel, and then the only disciple singled out as being "loved" by Yeshua abruptly appears in this same Gospel. It is my contention that this "disciple whom Yeshua loved" is Lazarus. This seems so clear from the text, but we miss this because the title of this Gospel is "The Gospel According to John," so we assume that John is the disciple whom Yeshua loved. But the inspired text tells us, "Yeshua loved…Lazarus."
In our first message of this series we covered the authorship of this letter. If you want more detail on this subject please look at that message.
But when Yeshua heard it he said, "This illness does not lead to death. It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it." John 11:4 ESV
"This illness does not lead to death—the Greek construction suggests a translation something like, "this sickness is not to end in death." That is, death is not going to be the outcome of this sickness. Yeshua does not mean that this sickness is not fatal, but that it will not end—ultimately—in death.
The end of this sickness will be: "It is for the glory of God, so that the Son of God may be glorified through it"—we were told in John 9:3 that the affliction of the man born blind was for the purpose of having God's works revealed in him. Here we are told that Lazarus' illness is also for God's glory. So it should be obvious that sometimes believers are sick for the glory of God.
There is a double meaning here concerning death and glorification. Yeshua will be glorified by the miracle of resurrecting Lazarus (John 11:4), but the miracle will enrage the Jewish authorities to the point that it will bring about Yeshua's own death (John 11:46-54) through which He will be glorified. So this miracle not only displayed Yeshua's identity as God's Son, but it also led to His death—which was the ultimate manifestation of His identity and glory. For Lazarus the ultimate gorification of Yeshua comes through His death, resurrection, and ascension.
Now Yeshua loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. John 11:5 ESV
So in verse 3 the sisters say that Yeshua loved Lazarus. Here we are told that Yeshua loves Mary, Martha, and Lazarus. This time the word changes. This is agapao, which is used of divine love.
So, when he heard that Lazarus was ill, he stayed two days longer in the place where he was. John 11:6 ESV
People read this and ask, If H,e really loved Martha and her sister, and Lazarus, why would He wait several more days before going to see them? Wouldn't you rush to see a loved one who was sick, especially if you could heal them?
In difficult trials, our emotions flood us with questions like, "If God loves me and He is all-powerful, then why am I going through this terrible trial?" As he sat in prison, even John the Baptist seemed to question his faith in Yeshua. He sent messengers to Yeshua to ask:
and said to him, "Are you the one who is to come, or shall we look for another?" Matthew 11:3 ESV
In other words, "If You're the Messiah, why am I, Your appointed messenger, still in this prison?" If even a great man like John could doubt in a time of trial, it's important for all of us to think biblically about trials.
What is interesting here is that when you translate the Greek text literally, it reads like this: "Yeshua loved Martha and her sister and Lazarus. Therefore when he heard that Lazarus was sick, he stayed where He was two more days." So it was because of, not despite His love for them that He waited two days.
What does it mean to be loved by Yeshua? Love means giving us what we need most. And what we need most is not physical healing, but to know and experience the glory of God.
Back to the health/wealth heresy: Those who teach that sickness in the life of a believer is a sure evidence of the Lord's displeasure ought to be silenced by this story of Lazarus. Even those who were close friends, whom Christ loves get sick and die. The statement, "Yeshua loved" in verse 5 is used of no one in the New Testament except for Lazarus, Mary, and Martha. The only people specifically said to be loved by Him and Lazarus gets sick and dies and this no doubt causes great pain to Mary and Martha. How utterly incompetent then are those who estimate God's love for us by our temporal condition or circumstances!
"He stayed two days longer in the place where he was"—where was the "place where he was"? We saw in John 10:40 that Yeshua had gone from Jerusalem "across the Jordan to the place where John had been baptizing in the early days," But when we read 1:28 we find: "This all happened at Bethany on the other side of the Jordan, where John was baptizing." So there were two places that had the name Bethany. The trouble is that there is no known Bethany on the east bank, so some commentators have looked around, seen a place called Bethabara, just one day's journey away, and assumed that was the place being referred to. However, there is better justification for assuming that where Yeshua stayed was actually 93 miles away in a region called Batanea, which in Aramaic paraphrases can almost be spelt the same as "Bethany." And the journey from Batanea would have taken four days.
From Jewish sources it is well known that a day's journey for a healthy person was considered to be 25 or 28 miles. The 93 miles that separate Bethany near Jerusalem from Bethany/Batanea would require a four days journey. This is important because it helps us work out the timing of events. A messenger is sent from Bethany when Lazarus is seriously ill. He arrives four days later in Batanea and tells Yeshua. At that time it seems that Lazarus is still alive (v. 4). However, two days later, Yeshua supernaturally knows that Lazarus has died. And so Yeshua and the disciples set off on their four-day journey, arriving in Bethany to be told that Lazarus has been in the tomb for four days.
So why wait until he was dead for four days? Burial was usually not delayed in the land of Palestine because bodies quickly decomposed. If you'll remember Ananias & Sapphira were buried immediately upon their death. Four days in Jewish belief was significant because there is a great deal of tradition to the effect that they believe that the soul remained near the body that was in the grave for three days, hoping for a chance to return to the body. But since on the fourth day, decomposition begins ordinarily, then the soul seeing that the body was changing its appearance left, in Jewish thought.
Rabbi Abba said, "For three days after death the soul hovers over the body intending to reenter it, but as soon as it sees its appearance change it departs."
Then after this he said to the disciples, "Let us go to Judea again." John 11:7 ESV
Why does Yeshua say, "Lets to to Judea" when Lazarus was in Bethany? To go to Bethany is to go to Judea, which is virtually the same thing as going to Jerusalem, it was just two miles away.
Why did Yeshua and His disciples withdraw from Judea to the area of Perea? After Yeshua's discourse at the Feast of Dedication the authorities were even more determined to kill Him. A return to Jerusalem would seem to spell certain death for Yeshua, and for them, if they choose to accompany Him.
The disciples said to him, "Rabbi, the Jews were just now seeking to stone you, and are you going there again?" John 11:8 ESV
Notice here that Yeshua said, "Let us go" in verse 7 and the disciples replied, "Are You going there again?" They didn't want to go back there because once Yeshua entered Judea, His enemies among Jerusalem's elite would have authority to arrest Him:
Yeshua answered, "Are there not twelve hours in the day? If anyone walks in the day, he does not stumble, because he sees the light of this world. But if anyone walks in the night, he stumbles, because the light is not in him." John 11:9-10 ESV
Yeshua is speaking of the sun and its path in the heavens that has been divided into 12 hours of daylight, but on the theological level what is His reference?
Again Yeshua spoke to them, saying, "I am the light of the world. Whoever follows me will not walk in darkness, but will have the light of life." John 8:12 ESV
Yeshua is the true light. So long as the disciples follow Him they will not stumble in "darkness" or be in danger. The "darkness" will not come until the appointed "hour of darkness" determined by God the Father for His Son's sacrificial death and resurrection.
Verse 10 assumes that Yeshua is the light. Thus when Yeshua is present, there is no darkness and one will not stumble. This means that the disciples can safely follow Yeshua to Judea.
The disciples will stumble at the "hour of darkness"? All the Apostles will "stumble" at the "hour of darkness" when Yeshua is arrested and crucified. Only Lazarus "the beloved" will stand by Him at the cross.
After saying these things, he said to them, "Our friend Lazarus has fallen asleep, but I go to awaken him." John 11:11 ESV
"Our friend"—Lazarus was friends with all the disciples. They've probably stayed in his house many times because it was right on the road from Jericho to Jerusalem.
"Lazarus has fallen asleep"—even though in Hebrew as well as in Greek culture "to sleep" could be a euphemism of someone's death, the disciples fail to catch Yeshua's meaning.
Then he appeared to more than five hundred brothers at one time, most of whom are still alive, though some have fallen asleep. 1 Corinthians 15:6 ESV
They didn't want to get Yeshua's meaning. Notice what they say next:
The disciples said to him, "Lord, if he has fallen asleep, he will recover." John 11:12 ESV
They're saying, "Well, if he's asleep, then he'll be okay, so we don't have to go up to Bethany after all." These men have no desire to risk their lives by going back to Judea.
The Greek word translated "recover" is the Greek word sozo. Does that ring a bell? It literally means "to be saved" or "to be rescued, delivered." It was often used in New Testament times (and in the New Testament) to mean "healed." One of the early copies of the New Testament contains the word "raised" instead of "recovered."
Now Yeshua had spoken of his death, but they thought that he meant taking rest in sleep. Then Yeshua told them plainly, "Lazarus has died, John 11:13-14 ESV
The idea that people would awaken from this sleep, while revealed in the Tanakh (Dan. 12:2), was not the common perception of the outcome of death. Normally people thought of those who fell asleep in death as staying asleep (dead). Thus the disciples' confusion about the Lord awakening him is some what understandable. If they had been paying attention (chapter 5) they would know that Yeshua can raise the dead:
and for your sake I am glad that I was not there, so that you may believe. But let us go to him." John 11:15 ESV
Yeshua tells the disciples He is glad for their sake that Lazarus has died. What does He mean? The significance of the death of their friend Lazarus includes the strengthening of the disciples' faith through the miracle of his resurrection.
This verse must be understood in light of verse 4. This event has the glory of God as its goal. Here, Yeshua revealing the glory of God is connecting with the disciples believing. This is the same theme and connection that was made in the first sign, the water turned to wine sign in John 2:1-11. The death of Lazarus provides an opportunity for the faith of the disciples to be built up in preparation for the difficult days ahead.
The disciples were believers, they had trusted Christ, but their faith continues to grow, the more the person and work of our Lord becomes evident to them. Believers, our faith should also be constantly growing. The more we walk in fellowship with Him through His word the more our faith will grow. Faith comes by hearing the word of God.
So Thomas, called the Twin, said to his fellow disciples, "Let us also go, that we may die with him." John 11:16 ESV
Thomas, was also known as the Twin. The Greek word for "twin" is didymos and was often used as a proper name in Greek culture. In all the lists of the 12 Apostles he is always called Thomas and never Didymus. Lazarus, however, who mentions Thomas more than any other Gospel writer, always identifies him as "Thomas, called Didymus."
When you think of Thomas what do you think of?:
Now Thomas, one of the twelve, called the Twin, was not with them when Yeshua came. So the other disciples told him, "We have seen the Lord." But he said to them, "Unless I see in his hands the mark of the nails, and place my finger into the mark of the nails, and place my hand into his side, I will never believe." John 20:24-25 ESV
Because of what we see in chapter 20, the church has come to think of him as the doubter, doubting Thomas. We're good at focusing on the negative. But on this occasion Thomas doesn't reflect doubt, but raw devotion and courage. "Let us also go, that we may die with him."
He is often called doubting Thomas, but he's the person who rises to the highest expression of faith in the New Testament calling Yeshua:
Thomas answered him, "My Lord and my God!" John 20:28 ESV
We should all hope that our lives will be judged by our acts of faith and not by our failures.
What is unusually here is that Peter is normally the spokesman for the disciples, but here it is Thomas. Some have speculated that Peter is not present at this time.